Human beings have always lived in groups and societies from the beginning of their existence on the planet. Being in groups and congregations fulfilled many basic human needs, such as, safety, cooperation in getting food, water or shelter. The presence of societies and groups also helped in getting approval from others. Humans like to interact with one another and be heard, accepted and followed.
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This human tendency and need for belonging to groups is what ignited the spark of social computing; the phenomenon will be the focus of this white paper. The establishment of societies, groups and interactions that connect many people online is just an imitation of human behaviour in the real world. The difference is that social computing uses IT and the internet as the main medium of communication rather than face-to-face communication used in real life.
During the course of this paper we will try to cover some information about social computing. We will discuss its meaning and definition; then we will briefly talk about its history and how it came to existence in its modern form. The different types of social computing applications and mediums will be mentioned and how they are used to create and promote interactions between people.
The use of social computing for businesses takes a different path than the one used for personal interactions. For organisations to utilise social computing, they have to know the benefits they can gain from using such a powerful tool. The different benefits companies can get from using social computing will also be discussed. This will illustrate to the reader that it is not just individuals who can benefit from social computing, but businesses can also gain enormously from such tools.
In order to show how some global businesses have used social computing, we will also include some examples of companies that are actively using social computing to improve their business practices. Focus will also be given to their communication strategies with all members of their value chain.
Additionally, since we know that our audience is in the U.A.E., we will discuss how organisations and businesses in the United Arab Emirates can use the power of social computing to improve their profitability and their relationships with customers, suppliers, staff and all the other entities that they deal with.
Definition of social computing
Social computing started during the 1960’s with the recognition of the idea that computers are used for communication and not just for computation (McDonald 12). Social computing can be defined as “the shared and interactive aspect of online behaviour” (Rouse 30). Some of the major elements of social computing include blogs, wikis, instant messaging, Twitter, social networking, RSS, and social bookmarking sites (Rouse 9).
Social computing is the practice of expanding the contacts of our business and/or social relations through creating connections with individuals. The supreme potential of the Internet promotes social computing through web-based groups created for that purpose. Social computing creates interconnected Internet communities that help persons to make contacts. Web sites dedicated to social computing are many, such as, Friendster, Linkedin, Spoke, and Tribe Networks, IBM and Microsoft.
Social computing is a collection of technologies driving a remarkable evolution of the Web in growth and investment. Social computing is based on digital systems that support online social interaction. Social interactions can occur through email, sharing photos, and instant messaging. Such interactions are typically social for the reason that they are mainly about communicating with people.
Also, there are other kinds of online social activities such as creating a web page, offering something on eBay™, following others on Twitter™, and editing in Wikipedia. These activities involve people that one may not know. Social computing is about how digital systems support social interactions. It engages people by providing communication mechanisms for interactions, chatting, sharing information, processing and displaying traces of online interfaces (McDonald 15).
History of Social Computing
Social computing has been around for quite some time. Some people may say that it dates back to the 1960’s. At that time, scientists and experts in IT started to realise that computers can be used for communication as well as computation. In 1961 Simon Ramo discussed the possibility of many people being connected together through the use of computers. He said “it is a degree of citizen participation unthinkable today.” (Ramo 1)
In 1968 a book written by Licklider and Taylor called “The Computer as a Communication Device” was published. The book spoke about the emergence of interactive communities that joined people from different geographical areas together. They had common interests and were using IT systems as their main method of communicating.
Even though the discussion about using computer systems to connect people started in the early 1960’s, it wasn’t until the 1970’s that computer-based communication had started. The earliest systems that utilized computers in communication between people included Emissary and Eis systems.
They were used for what experts called computer conferencing. Furthermore, in the 1970’s the University of Illinois introduced PLATO Notes. Mailing lists were introduced for the first time ever on ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network). (Licklider and Taylor 2).
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After these programs opened the door, the 1980’s saw an increase of IT systems that used computers to connect people. Social interactions through online text conversations increased, and bulletin boards emerged. Also the 80’s saw the introduction of Internet Relay Chat and USENET. USENET was started as an online community that users could utilise to communicate with each other.
They could discuss different issues of mutual concern through posts and threads on topics. Another way of using computers for communication in the 1980’s was bulletin boards. They mimicked traditional bulletin boards used by people to post topics or issues of interest to different members of society.
In the 1990’s advances continued in IT infrastructure, and so did developments in communication technology. The introduction of the web in the 90’s helped to advance social computing greatly. It caused a revolution by increasing connection speeds and bandwidths.
Nonetheless, when the web first started, social interactions and communication between people were limited to content that people used to upload on webpages. Most of them shared links with other users; this is quite different from the social computing that exists today. Webpage uploads were the beginning of dramatic changes in the way people interacted with each other over extended geographical areas.
Little regard would be given to distance or natural barriers in this platform. The internet actually made the idea of social computing in its current sense a reality. People didn’t have to be on the same local network or in the same area in order to interact and communicate with each other.
In the late 1990’s and the beginning of the 21st century, IT systems became more capable of facilitating communication between people and entities in a way that used computational power. Not only did this allow people to interact directly with each other, but it also fed results back into the system in a way that enriched social interactions. The systems became more tailor-made for individual users. An example of this application is feedback or suggestions that one gets when using search engines like Google, YouTube, Amazon or EBay.
Nowadays social computing applications and functions are an essential part of almost any website. Businesses have recognized the importance of such applications and are using them very heavily to increase interactions with customers, suppliers and other members of the value chain. This increased dependency on social computing is causing these websites and applications to become an integral part of people’s daily lives.
Types of social computing applications
One of the types of social computing applications that create the above-mentioned benefits are web blogs. These are online journals in which an author or a series of authors publish material on particular topics. Content may be anything from cooking recipes, sports, business, politics, scientific work or entertainment.
Blogs allow users to engage in discussions by either linking a particular blog in another forum or by making commentaries about a blogging topic. Businesses can utilise this application in order to capture knowledge about their industries. They may also have internal blogs that provide employees with a platform to make personal contributions (Fun & Wagner 248).
Wikis are applications that allow users to make contributions about particular topics from scratch through hypertext. It is a collaborative authoring tool which aggregates into an open source of information, such as Wikipedia. Users and administrators can provide quality control in order to increase reliability of this form of social computing.
The mode of application is highly useful to enterprises because it allows them to share knowledge. Companies can discover new trends about their products or services. A business can also learn about stakeholder concerns, and thus improve its business operations.
Peer to peer networks are applications that allow users to share multimedia content as well as storage and bandwidth. People often use them to share music and videos. This feature explains why many internet stakeholders have a bias against P2P networks since they facilitate copyright infringement.
Nonetheless, a number of companies in the business industry have embraced these technologies as methods of distribution. P2P networks may also increase marketability of content when only short versions of a file are available for sharing. Customers may be prompted to purchase the original version of a file.
Social networking websites are sites that join users to their contacts and acquaintances in an online community. Common sites include Facebook and twitter. Facebook allows one to invite others (who may or may not be strangers) to become friends with him in his online community. Businesses may use Facebook as an internal emailing system or as a promotional avenue for products and series.
It can also strengthen business associations by building networks. Twitter is another social networking website that allows individuals to read short messages (tweets) and respond to them by following the user. Businesses can use this platform to stay in tune with industry trends, boost their networks, expose their brands, monitor their image, engage with facts and expand their consumer base (Rasmus & Salkowitz 8).
Video sharing websites such as YouTube are revolutionary social computing platforms as well. They allow entities to share clips about any matter they regard as important. This may range from sports, politics, music and many other issues. Businesses may make advertisements, explain product use or announce new corporate strategies through YouTube. The video element in this type of application makes it quite cutting edge and transforming.
Photo sharing websites like Flicker allow members to upload, tag and view photos. In these websites, it is possible to get feedback from concerned members. Companies can harness these websites in order to promote some of their new offerings. They can increase their popularity through this avenue. Businesses may think of Flicker as an internet-based location for photographic posters.
Social bookmarking services are similar to photo sharing applications because they also allow users to tag items. Here, social bookmarking services are only allowed for books, not photos. One well-known example is Delicious. In this application, users share links and give feedback about the most relevant one. Only communities with similar interests can belong to one social site.
Peer to peer video and communication services may also be regarded as aspects of social computing. Skype is an example of such an application. It allows users to communicate in real time through video and audio. Businesses may utilise this mode of social computing in order to facilitate that personal touch with clients. Customers can also give reviews about products through Skype, and this may enhance business outcomes.
Benefits of social computing
Enterprise social computing facilitates communication in companies. Knowledge can flow across boundaries, hierarchies and information silos in social media. Members of an organisation can access a place where they can engage in informal conversations. Improvements made from fast communication often translate into higher production. For instance firms can launch products at very fast rates if operational teams are always in constant communication with marketing and procurement teams.
In the past, many companies used knowledge management solutions to improve communication. Social computing provides an edge over older communication solutions because it deals with new knowledge. Knowledge management was confined to the conveyance of existing knowledge. Many of these platforms stored old and outdated material that lacked relevance to workers’ daily activities. Social computing sustains the ever-changing stream of enterprise knowledge.
Not only does social computing increase communication rates, it also enhances the quality of communication. Social media tools allow companies to preserve memory within their structures. Since business environments are changing rapidly, then companies need to capture knowledge as soon as it develops. To increase usefulness of information, people need to know the context and content of the material. Social tools make this quality a reality by preserving knowledge at a rate that equals its dissemination.
Finance or business outcomes
Financial benefits of enterprise social computing come from improved returns. Social tools allow companies to discover emerging opportunities in their business processes and practices. Organisations can discern opportunities for innovation when they use social software appropriately. Such opportunities lead them to develop innovations frequently. Social media tools help firms to manage, analyse, track and find gaps that can then be leveraged (Bughin et al. 5).
Many companies may fail to achieve financial results from social software because their primary focus is adoption rather than operational efficiency. Firms that demonstrate success in social computing tend to dwell on tangible aspects of operation. They identify challenges in operations and then use social media to tackle those problems.
In fact, this focus on outcomes is what helps many organisations to overcome scepticism against the technologies. Employees who witness increases in performance metrics will see the use of social software and will continue to use it. Consequently, companies will continue to generate more financial revenue.
Employees that embrace social media can identify experts easily, and thus solve problems easily. They can use online community networks such as Socialcast to meet with their peers. The latter is a micro blog that assists sales persons to correspond with members of the sales industry. Users of enterprise social computing can thus consult other people about problems that may be new to them (Miller et al. 15).
Enterprise social media differs from other traditional methods of information seeking because it is transparent and saves time. One may look for answers by searching for previous discussions on the same. However, if no one has ever posted such information, then the concerned person can be the first one to do so. This ability to identify experts easily makes social computing quite advantageous to organisations.
Most people often think of social computing in this sense. Companies use social networking websites in order to market themselves either directly or indirectly. Some of them may inform customers about product or service updates. Others may educate customers about various ways of using their products.
They can build relationships with clients by conversing with them. Alternatively, organisations can use social media to build brands. Businesses also get to familiarise themselves with particular trends, which gives them a competitive edge. Twitter is especially useful in this area because firms can monitor the pulse of their visibility (Dachis Group 11).
Examples of successful use of social computing
As discussed earlier, social computing leads to staff improvement. A company that demonstrated these abilities was IPC Inc. It is a healthcare institution that used social software to harness distributed knowledge. Physicians in this company faced daily challenges that were new to them. Many of these professionals used social software to contact other physicians. Through this avenue, they could converse about clinical matters or patient challenges.
Their version of social software provided them with access to about 1000 doctors in real time. If a physician had to make a critical decision about a certain patient, and was uncertain about it, all he had to do was communicate with the other physicians. The hospital improved its response times as well as its quality of care. Besides, it led to greater physician satisfaction because doctors were not working alone (Miller et al. 19).
Some companies embrace social software in order to increase business performance or boost financial revenue. One organisation that enjoyed this reward was OSIsoft. The company identified a challenge that social networking could solve; poor problem resolution. Prior to implementation of enterprise social computing, the customer support department was unable to respond quickly and accurately to customer inquiries.
This minimised customer satisfaction and hence business outcomes. After the adoption of social software, OSIsoft easily accessed experts based on relevant topics. Customer support staff could also engage in ongoing discussions with engineers about technical issues that customers needed to know. All learning was documented through wiki articles. Some of the information came from call logs while others stemmed from experts.
Employees took on the responsibility of creating knowledge as it was not just a duty assigned to a small team. In the end, problem resolution improved dramatically. Customers were satisfied and this increased the amount of business they brought to the company. OSIsoft reaped tangible financial results because of social media use (Miller et al. 27).
Most firms utilise social computing in order to boost their marketing strategies. In fact, when one talks about social technology, most people will automatically think about Twitter and Facebook. While consumer driven applications are vital in organisations, deeper analyses of collaborative tools need to be done (O’Driscoll 29).
However, it is still necessary to look at case studies of companies that harnessed these consumer-driven technologies. One company that demonstrated the power of social networking in marketing was Toyota. In 2010, the company had quality control issues with their automobiles. They needed to recall a vast number of units, and this took a toll on their brand image.
The company decided to target social networking website users in order to minimise this damage. At any one time, there were almost a dozen Toyota employees monitoring Facebook and other social networking websites for commentaries about the company. The workers would respond to complaints and comments as soon as they arose thus ensuring that Toyota would not fall prey to negative publicity.
After about 6 months, not only had the firm managed to salvage its reputation, but it expanded its Facebook fan base by about ten percent (Messinger et al. 190). Therefore, social computing allows companies to target consumers directly concerning various aspects of marketing, such as, branding.
Educational institutions have also used social computing to improve marketing performance. One such entity was Phoenix University. It has several online programs that it offers students all around the world. In order to enhance their experience, the institution created documentaries that talk about the institutional rules and regulations. Furthermore, the firm needed to reach a vast pool of potential clients.
It did this by publishing reviews and video testimonials on YouTube. These allowed interested individuals to access information at their fingertips. Furthermore, it placed the firm at the top of search results about online tertiary institutions (Messinger et al. 220). Retail organisations can also use social computing in order to learn about and meet client needs. Best Buy is an example of a company that successfully did this. It asked Facebook members about their best vampire movies.
The company acted on those responses by placing all the popular ones on sale. As such, Best Buy demonstrated that social computing can be a low-cost strategy of getting feedback from customers. This enables firms to meet their needs directly and more effectively.
Aside from the marketing function, some firms have used social computing in order to facilitate communication. As Peter Kim explains in a YouTube video on the power of people, a certain restaurant in Texas utilised its Facebook page as a platform for strengthening its ties with staff members.
The area in which the restaurant was located was burnt by a huge fire. Many of the company’s employees lost their belongings and homes as a result. Employees used the restaurant’s Facebook page to air out their grievances. It was a place where they could get solace from colleagues. The organisation leveraged on social computing to enhance its business-to-employee relationship (Kim).
How to use social computing to improve business practices in UAE
Social computing can revolutionise the way companies carry out businesses in the UAE. It is not enough for companies to use social media in order to market new products or reach new clientele; firms need to create sustained value through this phenomenon. UAE companies need to use social computing to develop their business in all realms; that is, in supplies, human resources, operations, marketing and public relations (Dachis Group 5).
Firms in this country need to apply the concept when dealing with collaboration between two or more employees. They should also embrace it when optimising their supply chains. Social computing can also lead to better business to customer engagement.
The phenomenon can contribute to organisational strategy in the area of connections, analytics, culture and even content exchanges. Companies in the UAE need to realise that social computing will cause them to harness market trends that can drive their business models into the future (Parameswaran & Whinston 765).
Employees and consumers have altered their power over brands as well as IT processes. Workers are using social computing to get past the chain of command inherent in previous technological tools or processes. Customers are taking control of how their brands are perceived, so organisations in the UAE need to embrace this business-transforming idea (IBM 8).
In order to understand how social computing will gain relevance in the UAE business climate, firms need to demonstrate certain features after its adoption. Social business can assist firms in becoming engaged. They will become deeply connected to employees, partners, and most importantly, customers. As a result, most of these organisations will become more efficient and productive.
Social computing will also increase transparency in an organisation by elimination of boundaries that may exist in a company. Sometimes these boundaries can prevent a business from sharing information or utilising certain assets. Lack of transparency may also minimise access to experts, social computing would eradicate that problem.
Social business would also improve business practices in the UAE by eliminating boundaries in the above mentioned areas. Companies will also increase their rates of doing business if they take on social computing. They can anticipate problems and address them early on. Firms can also harness new opportunities that will give them an edge over their competitors (Schwartz 1).
Social computing enables businesses to capture knowledge, and hence boost their financial outcomes. For UAE organisations to compete favourably, they need to harness as much information as possible. However, the business climate in the country has changed; a lot of companies exist and transactions take place virtually. This calls for a different approach to harnessing knowledge from stakeholders in order to boost a company’s competiveness (Schwartz 1).
Social computing can improve communication within UAE organisations and outside. Companies can reach their customers, suppliers and partners in real time in order to have conversations with them. Workers can share ideas and insights about certain challenges and thus boost organisational outcomes. Furthermore, the phenomenon will also assist UAE firms in improving staff performance. First organisations can attract appropriate talent through collaborative media.
They can also retain talent by allowing their staff to mix work priorities with social needs. This creates a community that has high levels of organisational loyalty. Perhaps one of the most direct and obvious benefits of social computing is strengthening marketing efforts in the UAE. These applications will allow companies to reach customers in new and exciting ways. They will facilitate relationship marketing and also expand consumer pools (Parameswaran & Whinston 765).
Social computing empowers businesses to increase creativity, organise business strategies and strengthen social interactions. This means that they can reach new clients, facilitate better internal communication, keep up with industry trends, increase business outcomes (financial returns), strengthen employee commitment and communicate with partners more easily. Social computing leads to better financial, human resource, marketing and communication outcomes.
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